For the first half of South Carolina’s opener against North Florida Friday night, the Gamecocks showcased everything head coach Frank Martin was excited about during the offseason.
Then, with the game out of reach in the second half of an eventual 81-56 victory, South Carolina showed that the growing process is far from over.
Despite a convincing win in which the Gamecocks led by as much as 29, Martin expressed displeasure with how his team played in the second half.
“I thought defensively we did a really good job until a minute and a half to go in the first half,” Martin said. “And then I think we got a little immature, and we started playing the score rather than playing the game. I told our team, good opening win, but we didn’t play very maturely in the second half.”
South Carolina came out hot, knocking down 11 of their first 15 shots. After a North Florida three-pointer cut the Gamecock's lead to 25-16, South Carolina went on a 13-0 run to grab control of the game for good.
A positive sign for the Gamecocks in Friday’s contest was the team’s balanced scoring. Even with limited contributions from sophomore guard Sindarius Thornwell, six players scored at least six points in the first half.
The Gamecocks also received 35 points from their bench, compared to eight points from the Ospreys’ reserves. The Ospreys shot just 34 percent from the field and failed to collect an offensive rebound in the first half, two things senior guard Tyrone Johnson said Martin has emphasized.
“Coach Martin always tells us to rebound the ball, play good defense and reward ourselves with rebounding in transition,” Johnson said. “First half, we did that and second half, we kind of didn’t do that. For the first win of the season, that’s OK. We’ll take it.”
Another highlight of the opener was the Gamecock’s seemingly improved ability to defend without fouling. Late in the second half, South Carolina had only committed eight total personal fouls before a flurry in the final eight minutes. The Ospreys only took one trip to the foul line in the first half.
Martin said he continues to be impressed with the performance of freshman guard Marcus Stroman, who had six points and six assists in the win. Stroman and Johnson figure to serve as the primary facilitators in the offense moving forward. Neither guard committed a turnover Friday night.
The Gamecocks registered 42 points in the paint Friday, which was a product of their guards’ ability to consistently penetrate the Osprey defense. South Carolina returns to action Tuesday at home against Baylor as part of the College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon, scheduled to begin at noon. The Gamecocks will aim to avenge a 66-64 loss suffered at Baylor a year ago.
Moving forward, sophomore forward Demetrius Henry said the players understand their growth will be a long process, and that they just have to continue to improve.
“It’s just the first step, and we have to keep building,” Henry said. “But it’s definitely a good first step, and we have to build off of it.”